In recent years, we have seen the emergence of several new movements which have engaged large number of people in political action. Many of these originated online but have – to one degree or another – spilled onto the streets. They demonstrate that people do want to change the world for the better. While broadly positive, however, these movements have all shown how crucial lessons from previous struggles of workers and young people need to be re-learned.
Originating on image forum 4chan, Anonymous has developed into a group which fights to defend freedom of speech both online and in the real world, engaging in a number of high-profile attacks on government and corporate websites. Anonymous emerged onto the streets with worldwide protests against the corporate-cult of Scientology, adopting the Guy Fawkes mask from graphic novel and movie V for Vendetta as its uniform. During the Egyptian revolution of 2011, Anonymous hacktivists tried to help people get round the regime’s block on social media websites.
Unfortunately, the ideology of Anonymous fails to understand attacks on freedom of speech and civil liberties as a symptom of capitalism – a society run in the interests of a tiny elite, who have a vested interest in preventing ordinary people from being able to freely communicate and organise without their control. Also, while many people are involved in Anonymous, there is little attempt to go beyond the relatively small online communities in which it is based and engage the mass of workers and young people in political action on the streets.
Of even greater significance was the Occupy movement. Inspired by the Arab Spring, a small group of activists attempted to occupy Wall Street – centre of the US financial markets – to oppose ordinary people being made to pay for the crisis created by the bankers. Rapidly, the idea spread and hundreds of ‘encampments’ were established around the world – including one in Belfast. While the movement was at its most significant by far in the US, it captured the imagination of millions across the globe, calling for a society run for the 99%, not the 1%.
The movement’s ‘pluralist’ ideology, however, hampered decision-making. The movement knew what it was against but not what it was for. A lack of direction meant that the movement died away almost as rapidly as it grew. Some naively believed that simply occupying spaces would bring social change. The reality is that the capitalist class – with their armed forces and state machinery – have to be forced to give concessions by mass action. Ultimately, the world will only run in the interests of the ‘99%’ when the working class takes both political power and control of society’s wealth directly into its own hands, and creates a democratic, socialist world.